January 18, 2013

Parents question Sacramento City district school closure plans at emotional meeting

Nine-year-old Kimberly Rodriguez knew something was amiss by the number of phone calls her mother was receiving from friends and family.

Nine-year-old Kimberly Rodriguez knew something was amiss by the number of phone calls her mother was receiving from friends and family.

There was no hiding it, her mom, Betty Rodriguez, realized. So she reluctantly told her daughter the reason for the ringing.

"Your school is closing," said Betty Rodriguez on Thursday night, recalling the conversation she had the previous day.

There was a moment of deep thought before the fourth-grader at Clayton B. Wire Elementary School perked up.

"Can I bring my piggy bank to school so they won't close it?" Kimberly asked.

Heart-wrenching stories like this were repeated for two hours Thursday night as Sacramento City Unified school board members listened to the public's reaction to the district's proposal to close 11 under-enrolled schools next year.

Hundreds of parents attended the school board meeting, filling the main board room where the capacity is 350 people, and leaving many others to sit in an overflow room.

Parents questioned the methodology used in determining which schools would be closed. A girl cried into the microphone, begging that her school be spared. A community member expressed concerns about what would happen to closed campuses.

Sacramento City Unified anticipates a savings of $10 million over the first four years by closing 11 schools and moving nearly 3,700 students to nearby campuses.

The schools considered for closure are Washington Elementary in midtown; Maple Elementary in south Sacramento; Collis P. Huntington Elementary in south Sacramento; Susan B. Anthony Elementary in Meadowview; Tahoe Elementary in Tahoe Park; Fruit Ridge Elementary in south Sacramento; James Marshall Elementary in Rosemont; Joseph Bonnheim Elementary in Colonial Village; Mark Hopkins Elementary in Meadowview; Bret Harte Elementary in Curtis Park; and Clayton B. Wire Elementary in south Sacramento.

"The parents who spoke at (Thursday's) board meeting spoke with passion, intelligence and commitment to their kids and our schools," said board President Jeff Cuneo. "It deeply affected me and will continue to do so as I go through this process."

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said community meetings will take place at each of the schools being considered for closure before trustees vote on the issue Feb. 21.

Students at closed schools would be given priority during the district's open enrollment. Raymond said walking attendants and bus transportation will be a part of the transition plan should students be moved to different schools. District officials identified the schools considered for closure by ranking all elementary schools based on unused space.

Several schools were pulled off the list because their enrollment would increase by the closure of a school higher on the closure list. Three schools were excluded because they are in the district's Priority School program, a group of seven underperforming campuses given extra resources to turn them around.

Thursday's board meeting was the first chance parents had to address the school board and superintendent about the proposal.

"I have concerns for my autistic son," said Matt Muller, the father of twin sons at James Marshall Elementary. "He is not only meeting his goals but exceeding them, and it's because of the education he is receiving there."

Muller questioned the criteria for closing schools, saying he felt school performance should have been considered. James Marshall has an 813 API score, which is 45 points higher than the district's average and above the state's goal of 800.

"It makes no sense to keep a poorer performing school and close a school that is doing well," Muller said. "Maybe that's not cost-effective, but there are some things that can't be reduced to dollars and cents."

Sacramento City Unified was anticipating a $10 million to $12 million deficit for the 2013-2014 school year before the governor's favorable budget proposal.

District spokesman Gabe Ross said the district anticipates that the deficit will be reduced but not eliminated as Sacramento City continues to iron out its budget for next school year.

"I'm not letting my daughter get a bad education," said Steven Wormley, whose daughter attends Susan B. Anthony. "Her teachers are amazing. She's excited to go to school. We just went on a field trip today and it was it was just great."

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